I’m actually doing OK right this minute. If you’ve been reading, you know it’s been a hard summer. Really really hard. A lot of good things happening for other people that I want to rejoice in but my heart hurts. A lot of med changes that work in some ways and are horrible in other ways. A lot of grief about the summer being so sad – I was looking forward to it, damn it! But right this second, I feel OK, but breakable.
That’s where I got the name of the blog, (which I may have explained in the first post) because we are saints, we are part of the community of God’s saints, but I am very, very broken. Three was a time when you could see that on me, visually. I’ve always had some way of dealing with the pain of depression. Often it was just sleeping. Sometimes eating, sometimes not eating. For a very brief period of time, it was drinking, alone (the train of thought being “I can’t be an alcoholic even though there’s basically no chance I am not one, genetically, and even though I am drinking alone in my room because I am sad and I need to STOP FEELING RIGHT NOW. I can’t be an alcoholic! I didn’t start drinking until I was 29! And it’s just wine!” More on that in another post).
But the behavior that “helped” me the most was cutting. So, if this is going to be a problem to read, you might want to stop now. I haven’t written about it up until now because it’s so personal and it’s SO shameful.
When I was a little kid – and I was depressed from VERY early on – I realized that physically hurting myself made me feel better emotionally. I had a ring that my grandmother had given me that had a sharp edge on it and I would press it into my hand. The pain would make life a little more bearable right at that moment. Because my life was very not bearable. I sprained my ankle several times, once by climbing a tree in a floor-length velvet party dress (not sure what my mother was thinking letting me wear that), and once by stepping in a gopher hole, and I realized that not only did the pain make me able to live in my own skin, but people could see that there was something wrong with me.
They didn’t know I was depressed and wanted to die – I didn’t really have words for that. But they knew that I was hurt and so they made an effort to help me. It wasn’t the kind of help I needed, but there was such a relief to people seeing – visibly – that there was something wrong with me, that I decided to be hurt as much as I could. I have a very strong memory of stomping on my bad ankle with my other foot to try to make it sprained again, and not seeing anything wrong with that – that I was consciously trying to injury myself.
I stopped that when I was a teenager, and until I was an adult. I had horrible horrible depressive phases where I was almost catatonic and I mostly went to sleep as an escape. I have no idea what people thought of me then or how visible it was. When I was about 26 or 27 though, I found cutting.
I never got very “good” at cutting because I’m actually kind of a wimp about blood, which is ironic. But I found that straight razor blades provided a good stinging sensation and X-acto knives were even better, and there was something incredibly satisfying about injuring myself. It made me feel numb which is all I was looking for, and it gave me some relief from the feeling that I didn’t deserve anything better for some reason. I did it mostly where people couldn’t see. On my stomach was easy, especially in the winter, as sweaters hide everything. On my left wrist was harder but again, the winter is a good time for long sleeves. I never did it deep enough to leave scars and it was never a suicide attempt or anything close to it. I just needed the feelings to stop.
At one point, I was really not doing well. My Bible Study was aware of this, I had been asking for prayer, and I wasn’t even pretending any more. When someone asked me if I was OK, I would say, “NO, I’m not OK.” And usually they wouldn’t know what to do and would probably wish they hadn’t asked. At one point, I went to a SuperBowl party. I hate football but I didn’t know what to do with myself. I went and I sat on the stairs at my friends house and sobbed through the whole game. I had been cutting before the game because quite honestly, it felt like the choice between that and driving my car off a cliff. A friend from my Bible Study came up to me and asked if I was OK. I said no. My sleeve fell back a little and he saw my wrist and said, “You’re NOT OK!”
I thought of this because of my last post. People seem to need some kind of visual or a malady that they can understand. I had been begging for help and no one got it until they saw my wrist. Last weekend I really really wanted to take that approach again. I didn’t because I could survive, and my life is not unbearable even if sometimes it feels like it for a short period of time. But I really wanted to. Just to make my outside match my insides. To show, “Look, THIS is how much I hurt. Can you see now?”
I stopped drinking and cutting (again, hadn’t gotten to what anyone else would probably see as a major problem but I know myself and I couldn’t have stopped if I had waited) both on Dec 30, 2005. This was partly because I realized that no one in my family who had ever used alcohol as a way to numb themselves had ever turned out well. It’s not a beverage to me, wine, it is a feelings management system, and that’s dangerous. But also because of something my therapist had said. I had told her about the cutting but not the drinking because I felt so silly since it was not “real” drinking). She told me it would make me feel better temporarily but it would make the feelings I was trying to avoid last longer. And I thought to myself, “I will not survive if these feelings last longer.”
So I stopped. But I miss it. Them. This summer has been a time for both wanting to numb feelings and for wanting to show other people how hard it is to be me. How much it hurts.
The other thing is that I don’t have any scars from cutting. I should, even though I didn’t cut very deeply. I have scars from paper cuts and mosquito bites. I scar very easily. But I have none. Most of the time, I can see this as God’s grace to me. Sometimes I wish I did have them. Because again, they’d be tangible proof of the pain I’ve been through and that even when I look OK, things have been really really hard in the past.